An Independent Professional Practicum in Entry-Level Physical Therapy Education
Purpose: The purpose of the Professional Practicum is to promote critical thinking, and to foster advanced, self-directed, contextual learning in a self-selected area of interest in a Doctor of Physical Therapy program (DPT). Description: The Professional Practicum, grounded in adult learning theory and self-directed learning, is a twelve credit, independent study that students complete during the third year of the DPT program. Students select and develop their own project in education, administration/business, research, or health care policy which is implemented in an unique context, such as a community recreational setting, university research laboratory, church, elementary school, homeless shelter, or global health setting. Projects have included conducting an original research study on Parkinson’s disease, planning a private practice, developing a patented therapeutic exercise device, educating athletes and parents on injury prevention, and educating care providers on lifting techniques in another country. The practicum is developed during the second year of the DPT program when students, guided by faculty, reflect on their own interests and strengths, and plan their learning experience. The proposal requires students to identify and develop unique learning objectives, activities to meet their objectives, necessary knowledge issues, a Practicum Supervisor, and a timeline for the practicum. The practicum is conducted in the community during the third year under the guidance of their supervisor. The end product is a practicum portfolio which contains a literature review, all work completed, a reflective synopsis, and an abstract. Upon completion, the practicum is evaluated by the Academic Advisor and Practicum Supervisor. Each student presents a summary of their project to members of the university community, and all abstracts are compiled in a booklet and distributed. Summary of Use: Eighteen DPT cohorts have completed the professional practicum with 55.8% in education, 17.5% in research, 25% in administration/business, 1.4% in health care policy. Faculty observations include: professional growth of students, creativity of projects, and advancement in confidence and knowledge. Students and alumni reviews of the practicum have been overwhelmingly positive with comments such as: appreciation for the autonomy to determine area of study, setting the student apart during employment interviews and hiring process, gaining an understanding beyond the entry-level curriculum (such as writing a business plan,) and totally changed the direction of student’s professional choices. Importance to Members: The unique learning activity/teaching method may benefit entry level DPT programs by exemplifying an active learning process which fosters critical thinking, independence, and advanced contextual learning outside of the classroom or clinic. The practicum has been a positive component of the curriculum which provides students with an autonomous and diverse experience which allows utilization of newly acquired skills in future practice.